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Hands-on Gear Review
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 Review
Cons: Chest bottles create pressure points and bouncing, some pockets hard to use
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is the medium sized running vest in Ultimate Direction's signature series. Designed by ultra-running legend Scott Jurek and modified to be improved over the first version, the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is one of the most popular hydration packs for running on the market. Go to any ultra race in the United States and you are likely to see scores of people wearing this vest. However, in our opinion it is far from perfect, and doesn't really compare in performance and comfort to our two award winners. That said, there are many great features to this vest that make it a worthy option for long runs or races.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Running Hydration Packs of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 is designed to carry liquid in two water bottles mounted on the chest straps up front, although it can also be used with a bladder (not included). Its two large storage pouches as well as extra bungee cords and plethora of pockets hold plenty of gear and clothing for almost any sort of long running adventure.
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0
For this review we also purchased and tested the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest 2.0. However, as a minimal, race-specific product we felt that it did not fit in very well with this review. But, we would like to share some of the differences. The AK Race Vest holds two bottles up front, but only has two other front mounted pockets. It has one single pouch on the back that can be used for gear or is adaptable for a bladder, and also has bungee cords to attach additional clothing. That's basically it! While it could come in handy for carrying a jacket and some water during ultra races, we found it to be inadequate for the purposes of your "average" distance runner, and therefore recommend the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 instead.
Like the Patagonia Fore Runner Vest 10L, the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 uses adjustable side straps to help fine tune the fit. We liked this set-up better than on the Patagonia model because the straps are recessed inside Velcro pockets. However, there are no shoulder adjustment straps. Our biggest complaint was the pressure points on our chest created by the hard plastic bottles mounted there, and that the vest has a tendency to get bouncy when running hard. Overall, it's pretty comfortable, but not nearly as comfy as the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set - our Editors' Choice winner.
Features & Design
This pack has a lot of features that we liked. Perhaps the coolest is the Silnylon Hex Mesh material that is super lightweight, strong, and totally non-absorbent. We also liked the bungee cords for additional clothing, pole holder straps, ice axe loop, whistle, and reflective tape.
The UD SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 incorporates two hard plastic water bottles that are mounted in pouches on the chest. We like this system because you can have two different liquids and because the bottles are easy to refill and balance out the weight on the body really well. We also love the Ultimate Direction bottles and especially their "kicker valve." However, for this method of hydration we believe that soft flasks offer many advantages to hard bottles, and hope that UD changes this feature in the future. This pack is adaptable to use a bladder, although it would be hard to refill since this pack only has side accessible pockets.
This vest can hold lots of stuff. It has one zippered pocket that can be accessed through one of two different zippers. It is also split in half by an internal bungee cord set-up to secure layers better, or separate clothes from the bladder if you are carrying one (we found the internal bungees a bit superfluous). There is also another zippered pocket on the back for accessories. The pack can also hold a lot of other clothing under its more than adequate bungee cords.
This pack has a ton of pockets, but in our opinion not all of them are very functional, and in that regard it is far inferior to the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set. In particular we found that our iPhone 5 would not fit in the dual "smart-phone pockets" on the chest straps. We also found that the zippered pockets on the sides rode so high under our armpits that we were unable to bend our arms in a way that these pockets were accessible to us, a very frustrating fact. Overall it has two front bottle pockets, 4 gel pockets on the sides of the bottles, 4 Velcro accessory pockets of different sizes, two larger Velcro pockets on the sides and two zippered side pockets, quite the collection!
With the included bottles but no liquids, our scale weighed this vest at 13.3 ounces, making it the lightest one we tested!
The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 has the feature set and storage capacity to take on almost any ultra length single push race, and will also work great for long runs or adventures in the wild.
The MSRP is $130. This is less than the higher performing products, but still expensive. As a durable and very versatile product, we believe you will get your money's worth here. That said, if you're willing to shell out the extra for the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set or the Nathan Vapor Air 2L, our Top Pick for Bladder Hydration, we highly recommend both of these competing products.
While we like the SJ Ultra Vest 2.0, we can't wait for the 3.0 to be released sometime in 2016. This is a solid pack with innovative features, yet could still use some improvements, especially in fit and comfort. While we think most people will be happy with this product, we didn't think that it was the highest performing hydration pack for running that we tested.
Other Versions & Accessories
AK Race Vest 2.0
70 ounce Reservoir
— Andy Wellman
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